Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 31 July 2016

For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org

 

The First Thing of Prayer

 

According to Yonggi Cho, prayer is his first priority, and he is telling everyone: “I am convinced that renewal is possible anywhere people dedicate themselves to prayer” (Paul Yonggi Cho with R. Whitney Manzano: Prayer: Key to Revival, Waco, Word Publishing 1984, p7). It’s hard to argue with him when his numbers add up. In 1984, he published the book calledPrayer: Key to revivaland, in this book, he shared thatthe present membership of our church is approaching 400,000. By the end of 1984, at our present rate of growth, we shall have in excess of 500,000 active members.” He writes: “In 1982, we led one hundred and ten thousand people to Christ. Out of these new converts, we were only able to absorb sixty thousand members. Therefore, we gave other evangelical churches a total of fifty thousand members. In 1983, we had a total of one hundred twenty thousand new conversts” (p18). If he was at Living Grace, Yonggi Cho would probably expect four new, born again, Christians every month, which – by the middle of next year – would mean that we would number around 50 more people on a Sunday morning in church. Would you like this? It could be exciting and, according to Yonggi Cho, absolutely possible. He is saying – I quote him again and he said this in 1984 (his church would double from then to now [The Economist, November 1, 2007: “Yoido Full Gospel Church…boasts 830,000 members, a number it says is rising by 3,000 a month.” Doubling church attendance in twenty years may not even be so spectacular in itself, if it wasn’t for the scale and consistency.]: “Based on twenty-seven years of experience in successful praying,” “I am convinced that renewal is possible anywhere people dedicate themselves to prayer.”

We know that something is right about Yonggi Cho’s experience and claims because the Bible backs him up:

 

2 Chronicles 7:14: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

 

Jeremiah 33:3: Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.

 

Matthew 18:20: For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

 

Hebrews 4:16: Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

 

There is something about making prayer your first priority – for any outcome that is on your heart. However, Yonggi Cho’s book (that we are studying at the moment) is not easy reading. The words and concepts are not complicated and they are from the Bible but the practice of actually doing the praying – the way Yonggi Cho and the whole church are praying – looks scary – intimidating:

 

Paul Yonggi Cho: Make Your Faith Work, Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications 1985, p9: I always pray between one and two hours in the morning … During lunchtime I pray for about half an hour. In the evening I always pray for about one hour. Every day I pray a total of three to four hours.

 

Paul Yonggi Cho: Make Your Faith Work, Chapter 1: Our services start with fervent prayer. After the sermon we all pray again [When I start my Sunday morning service, we have a unison prayer in a loud voice.  If I didn‘t ring a bell, my people would stay praying for a whole day, so I have to stop them by ringing the bell several times.] … On Wednesdays we have Bible study, but our main emphasis is on prayer … On Friday nights we have all-night prayer meetings … At the same time, we have Prayer Mountain out in the country … Every day we have 3,000 people who go up there to fast and pray … Every day we have an early morning prayer meeting … In Korea it gets very cold and it is hard to get up at 4:30 and go out to church and conduct an early-morning prayer session.

 

Who can do this? These Christians in Korea are as busy and industrialized as we are, but they find time and have the passion to make prayer a priority. Not all of their church members can come to all of these prayer meetings and in this respect they are like us, but they do have good attendances even at 4.30am in the morning – (If I am not mistaken, I heard a figure quoted of 10-20 percent of Korean church members are present at a prayer meeting.) – and they all pray, speaking their prayers aloud with passion, when the bell sounds in worship on a Sunday morning.

Do you feel challenged? Maybe a little. Do pastors need to pray like Yonggi Cho – similar hours – saturating the day with prayers (from 4.30am in the morning)? I will explore these questions further in the weeks to come (and this gives us time to digest the intensity of these people’s prayer life), but today have a closer look why Yonggi Cho prays. What is happening for him? Of course, he gets around praying for all of his needs and the church and the world. However, reading the first chapter of the book, I was struck that, for him, the primary reason for prayer was not launching petitions to God – asking him to grow the church or anything else – but personal holiness.

I remind you of what he is saying:

 

Paul Yonggi Cho: Make Your Faith Work, Chapter 1: People ask me, ‘Why should you pray so much?’

I’m praying because I can only receive the light of the Holy Spirit by repenting genuinely through prayer every day. If I don’t pray, I won’t really repent because every day I become contaminated by the world of sin. Because we are all living in a sinful world, we are constantly being contaminated. And so, when I pray, the Holy Spirit comes into my heart and I can see my reality and can genuinely repent of my sins.

Of course, every day I commit many sins of the lips because I hear so much from people and then I’m tempted to join them in criticising others. When I pray in the Holy Spirit, he lights up my heart and rebukes me about some of these situations. I fight the habitual sin of criticising others. I determine over and over again to rid myself completely of this sin, but again and again I fall into that trap. Therefore I need to get cleansed every day and if I don‘t pray, I can’t get myself cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

I’ve been in my ministry for twenty-six years, but still I need the Holy Spirit every day to cleanse my life because there are many temptations that creep in. When you become the pastor of almost half a million people, you are in the centre of temptation. You are tempted to make money. If I have the desire, I can make big money, not just a few pennies. I could become a multi-millionaire! The devil comes to me and says, ‘Yes, you can become a millionaire legally. Why don’t you make money while you have the chance?’

Also, there are tremendous temptations from the opposite sex. You become like an angel to them. On the platform I always talk about the word of God and they think I’m an angel sent from the Lord. One day my wife came to me and said, ‘Let’s go up on the platform and live there together.’ '

I asked, ‘Why?’

Her answer was simple, ‘You talk like an angel on the platform, but then when you come home you become a red, hotblooded human being and I am so confused.’

Since I represent Jesus Christ, my people take me as an angel from the Lord — so the temptation from women is tremendous. I used to think that when I was 50, I’d be exempt from those temptations. When I was in my 20s and 30s I used to pray, ‘Oh, God, make me old quickly!’ Now I’m beginning to see that temptation is even more subtle as I get older. If I don’t pray, I can very easily become the target of temptation.

Also there is the temptation of pride because people treat me like a king. They try to touch me. They swarm around and struggle even to touch my coat. The devil comes and tries to put pride into my heart. If I don’t pray, I can’t see the real situation of my heart because the devil comes and says, ‘This is fine. You are justified in being proud.’  Justified or unjustified, I can really see the reality of the situation only when the Holy Spirit helps me.  For this reason, when I pray, the Holy Spirit shines in my heart and I begin to see myself through the eyes of God and then I repent daily. If I don’t go before him asking forgiveness daily, then I cannot keep my position straight before the Lord. I need to pray so I can be delivered from worldliness because worldliness is strong — like a mighty wave. To keep myself in Christ’s likeness I need to repent …

 

I was struck by Yonggi Cho’s emphasis in his first chapter and its importance was confirmed when I read another book by him. There was no mistaking the first dynamic of prayer:

 

Paul Yonggi Cho with R. Whitney Manzano: Prayer: Key to Revival, Waco, Word Publishing 1984, p24-24: When you come into contact with God in your time of prayer, the first thing you feel in your heart, as you enter into His divine presence, is a realization of your sin. No one can sense pride in the presence of the holy God. Once you sense your lack of natural qualifications to be in His holy Presence, you will begin to confess your sin and humble yourself before God… Amazingly, as you enter into his Presence, you will be made aware of reactions, attitudes and actions that you may have forgotten … The next very natural reaction to the Presence is to desire to be forgiven for your sin. This is true in my own experience…

 

Is this also your experience when you begin to pray – when you draw close to God? Is the first thing that the Holy Spirit reveals to you the contamination of your soul with the things of this world – the sin of pride, temptations of money and the opposite sex, the sins of the lips, etc.? Does the Holy Spirit remind you of incidences and attitudes that are not from God and that need forgiveness and a change? [What is he saying to you?]

And if this is the case, how long does this cleansing process take? You don’t want to hurry on the Holy Spirit, but what about the prayer petitions that are (really) on your heart – the church, the family, the workplace, Australia? How long does God want to spend on cleansing you before moving on to business? (I know that I am saying it a little flippantly but you know what I mean.) Yonggi Cho himself seems to be patient and willing to go through the process every day, no matter how old he is getting: “I’ve been in my ministry for twenty-six years, but still I need the Holy Spirit every day to cleanse my life because there are many temptations that creep in.” Maybe there is something for us to learn.

Revival – discipling nations – is on God’s heart but he cannot move without people that are being prepared for the work. If the Holy Spirit was not cleansing Yonggi Cho every day, what (do you think) would happen to the church or his family? In the Bible, ministers were absolutely careful about their conduct and character:

 

Cf. 2 Corinthians 6:3-7: We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left

 

If we are in the wrong shape – if you don’t watch the contamination by the world – as God’s servants, (chances are that) we discredit the ministry, what Jesus commissioned us to do. We put stumbling blocks in people’s paths, because if Christians quarrel and gossip, devour one another and whatever else, who would want their God?

For these reasons, God has always spent quality time in preparing his servants for the work. In the Bible, Jesus himself became the object of some intense cleansing work twice, just before he was to grow his ministry. The first time, it was when he returned from the Jordan river full of the Holy Spirit, ready to launch into preaching the kingdom of God, healing the sick and driving out demons. At the Jordan, John had baptized him with water and, coming out from the water, God had spoken to him and the Holy Spirit had descended on him like a dove. Jesus was now ready, but – returning from this experience in the Jordan river – he faced an attack from Satan which delayed his first preaching engagement.

Yet, the battle was not one of praying harder for the nation, for a softening of people’s hearts or a change in circumstances. This kind of praying had been done.

 

[Luke 2:25-26: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” / Luke 2:36-38: “There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”]

 

At this breakthrough time, seeking God was no more about the ministry but the minister – Jesus – his faithfulness as the Son of God who was now walking the earth in human form.

 

Luke 4:1-3: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

 

This is revealing. There was no more prayer needed for breakthrough in the ministry. This was the time now and everything was prepared for Jesus to stir the nation and save the world (the angels were rejoicing), but – at this juncture – he became now the foremost battleground – Jesus himself: his purity and freedom from contamination.

Can I put it to you that it is the same with us in this season? God’s call is clear. Everything is being prepared. And the battleground is ourselves – you and I. How close will you stay to God and, in prayer, allow the Holy Spirit to cleanse you of sin? This is not wasted time, but the key battle which determines the growth of God’s kingdom – what he can do through us. Yonggi Cho writes: “I’ve been in my ministry for twenty-six years, but still I need the Holy Spirit every day to cleanse my life because there are many temptations that creep in.”

The second time of experiencing intense cleansing work happened for Jesus just when he prepared for the breakthrough of the cross. [John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”] Just as he was about to be betrayed and arrested and everything would take his course, he faced another intense battle over his ministry and the battleground was again his person.

It had been a great day. They had celebrated the Passover together – Jesus and his disciples. They sang together (Matthew 26:30). Peter had declared his undying loyalty to him and there were prophetic declarations, which included warnings but also the first taste of Jesus’ body and blood in the bread and wine, the blessings of what was to come. But as they were walking from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives, the battle was on and Jesus enlisted his disciples for support, spelling out the purpose of this particular prayer time:

 

Luke 22:39-46: Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

 

Matthew 26:38: Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

 

Jesus didn’t need any more prayers about making the cross happen or the breakthrough of the resurrection afterwards. It was done, but there was another attack on his person. He needed prayer so that he would not fall into temptation. Because could he face – would he face – all the suffering that was ahead? Could he overcome his fear of having nails driven through his body and being pinned to a wooden stake to die in agony and shame? In this time of prayer, Jesus was fighting temptation and he wasin anguish”. His soul was (in his own words) “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”. The battle was intense, but he prayed and, in prayer, an angel came strengthening him. He practiced what he preached to his disciples: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.

How does this work? This is actually quite nice, (even though prayer time crises like Jesus experienced here are never easy). God is not wagging his finger at us from a distance and making us shape up on our own. He is not keeping his distance from us – showing us a cold shoulder even – until we are fixed up a little. On the contrary, he is drawing us close – drawing us into his presence in prayer – before the cleansing has even begun. In fact, Yonggi Cho clarifies that in God’s presence – as he is enjoying his closeness – the Holy Spirit awakens his sense of right and wrong. It is in the experience of God and his holiness in prayer that sin appears sin to him – and us, as the Holy Spirit gives light.

If you wanted to use other language, you could say that God wasrubbing offon us. The longer that we are immersed in his presence, the more the contamination with the world washes out from us. We become aware of the wrong in what we have done and, being so close to God in prayer, we want it out of our lives.

A primary example for the dynamic of God rubbing off on people is Moses, the leader who brought the people of Israel out of Egypt:

 

Exodus 33:18-23: Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

 

Exodus 34:5-8: Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped.

 

Exodus 34:28: Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water.

 

Exodus 34:29-35: When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

 

In prayer, God passed in front of Moses in all of his goodness, proclaiming The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” And the goodness of God – his holiness – rubbed off on Moses that even his body – especially his face – began radiating the glory of God, his purity, so that others were confronted in their own nature. They became afraid and could not even look at the reflected glory of God on Moses’ face.

Prayer is the process where God’s goodness – an experience of his presence – rubbs off on us and stirs up a cleansing work where sin becomes unattractive to us. The Holy Spirit gives light and a heart to repent. God is just better than sin. Prayer saturates us with God, as we become filled with his goodness, his glory, his purposes, his passion, his love, his faithfulness, his strength, and all of him. And this is precisely what also happened to Jesus on the Mount of Olives. God’s goodness, his will and faithfulness, his heart for a lost world, was once again rubbing off on him, which gave him strength to overcome temptation and go through with his ministry. [Reminder: Jesus had a heart for a lost world before the world was even created, but – in his ministry here on earth in human form – he, though he remained God, made himself dependent on God, the Father and God, the Holy Spirit as other humans. He could be tempted.]

I give another illustration of this principle in the martyrdom of Stephen. In the early church, Stephen was chosen for ministry because he was full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and this is what got him into trouble. He experienced similar circumstances to Jesus. He wasfull of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs” (Acts 6:8) and his critics could “not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him” (Acts 6:10) which led to trumped up charges, false witnesses, ashamtrial, and finally a mob execution by stoning Stephen to death. However, through out these proceedings, Stephen held up because God hadrubbed offon him in prayer. He was glowing like Moses and like Jesus at times (As Jesus returned from the Mount of Transfiguration where his face was transfigured by the glory of God, the Bible says – Mark 9:15: “As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.”): “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”

And not only was Stephen glowing with the glory of God, he was also so filled with the nature of God that he could die with the same words on his lips as Jesus: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60; cf. Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”). The goodness of God had filled him so in prayer that he could die, loving and praying for his enemies. [Please note the warfare theme of all these Bible references.]

 

Acts 6:3-6: Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

 

Acts 6:8-15: Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

 

Do we gain an appreciation now what Yonggi Cho identifies as the first thing that happens in prayer? He writes:

 

Paul Yonggi Cho with R. Whitney Manzano: Prayer: Key to Revival, Waco, Word Publishing 1984, p24-24: When you come into contact with God in your time of prayer, the first thing you feel in your heart, as you enter into His divine presence, is a realization of your sin. No one can sense pride in the presence of the holy God. Once you sense your lack of natural qualifications to be in His holy Presence, you will begin to confess your sin and humble yourself before God… Amazingly, as you enter into his Presence, you will be made aware of reactions, attitudes and actions that you may have forgotten … The next very natural reaction to the Presence is to desire to be forgiven for your sin. This is true in my own experience…

 

This is not a waste of time – not holding us back from praying more important petitions (such as our needs and wants for our family, the church family and nation) – but winning the victory over the battleground that is our own person. God is ready to move, but we need to be free of contamination. And he is doing this for us in prayer.

I think that I may close by drawing your attention (again) to the kind of contamination which Yonggi Cho identifies first in his book. He writes:

 

Paul Yonggi Cho: Make Your Faith Work, Chapter 1: People ask me, ‘Why should you pray so much?’

I’m praying because I can only receive the light of the Holy Spirit by repenting genuinely through prayer every day. If I don’t pray, I won’t really repent because every day I become contaminated by the world of sin. Because we are all living in a sinful world, we are constantly being contaminated. And so, when I pray, the Holy Spirit comes into my heart and I can see my reality and can genuinely repent of my sins.

Of course, every day I commit many sins of the lips because I hear so much from people and then I’m tempted to join them in criticising others. When I pray in the Holy Spirit, he lights up my heart and rebukes me about some of these situations. I fight the habitual sin of criticising others. I determine over and over again to rid myself completely of this sin, but again and again I fall into that trap. Therefore, I need to get cleansed every day and if I don’t pray, I can’t get myself cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

 

He needs to pray becauseof course, every day I commit many sins of the lipswhich consist of joining people in criticizing others. It is a habitual sin for him which he determines over and over again to rid himself completely of his sin, but again and again falls into that trap. For the many sins of the lips, Yonggi Cho needs daily cleansing, and so do we.

The week before, I was talking to another Lutheran minister who told me about another sizable Lutheran congregation that struggled with their budget. We talked about church sizes and then I mentioned how much we receive in our weekly Sunday offering. Much of my time I invite God to join the conversation that I am having and I am trying to listen to him. At that time, God immediately had his say and immediately convicted me that I had been bragging. The giving at Living Grace is high and it is by the grace of God. It is something holy – the grace of provision is amazing – and I defiled the goodness of God by cheaply showing off with the figures. It may not have appeared so in the conversation but God revealed my heart to me which happens in his presence.

There are many sins of the lips and – like Yonggi Cho – we need to pray – we want to pray – daily – that God’s goodnessrubs off on usand our words do not become stumbling blocks for others, but testify to the kind of God that we have. Do not be surprised when the battleground is you and pray until you are glowing with God, free from contamination. Amen.